Hurricane Ian nears Florida coast, threatening floods, winds

Hurricane Ian nears Florida coast, threatening floods, winds

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida residents rushed to board up their homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and flee from oncoming Hurricane Ian, fearing the monstrous storm that knocked out power to all of Cuba and its 11 million people would slam into their state’s west coast with catastrophic winds and flooding on Wednesday.

“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” said Vinod Nair, who drove inland from the Tampa area Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens seeking a hotel in the tourist district of Orlando. “We live in a high risk zone, so we thought it best to evacuate.”

Nair and his family were among at least 2.5 million Florida residents ordered to evacuate in anticipation of a powerful storm surge, high winds and flooding rains. Fueled by the warm Gulf of Mexico, Ian was gaining strength after plowing over western Cuba’s prized tobacco-growing region as a Category 3 storm on Tuesday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Ian could become a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 130 mph (209 kph) before roaring ashore on Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday afternoon.

Winds exceeding tropical-storm strength of 39 mph (63 kph) reached Florida by 3 a.m. and hurricane-force winds were expected in Florida well in advance of the eyewall moving inland, the Miami-based center said.
“It is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in Sarasota, a coastal city of 57,000 in the storm’s projected path. He warned at a news conference: “This the kind of storm surge that is life threatening.”

Ian’s forward movement slowed over the Gulf, enabling the hurricane to grow wider and stronger. A hurricane warning covering roughly 220 miles (350 kilometers) of the state included Fort Myers as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg, which could get their first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

The hurricane center the storm was moving closer to the west coast of Florida, moving north-northeast about 10 mph (17 kph) toward Naples. Sustained winds are about 120 mph (193 kph) with higher gusts.

Workers from Specialized Performance Delivered 24:7 board up the windows on the historical Henry B. Plant Hall on the campus of the University of Tampa ahead of Hurricane Ian Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. Ian is predicted to make landfall somewhere on Florida’s west coast. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)